Signs Of Labor: How to know my body is preparing to give birth
It is normal for any woman and her surrounding team to start getting a little panicky and nervous as the due date approaches. Most of the time it is because first-time mothers aren’t sure exactly what to expect when it comes to labor. That’s why knowing the signs of labor and understanding that your body is getting ready to give birth, can calm those nerves.
While nothing compares to giving birth, we can look towards other women’s common experiences to help us recognize that we need to go to the hospital. Here is everything you need to know about signs of labor and your big moment.
What is Labor?
Labor is the entire childbirth process from start to finish. It usually starts with contractions in the uterus and it always ends with you holding your beautiful newborn. The process has several stages and technically there are a few different types of labor as well such as pre-labor, early labor, and false labor.
While everyone’s experience with labor will be unique to them, there are also some common territories that every woman goes through. These are referred to as the stages of labor.
Stages of Labor
We can break up the stages of labor into three categories. Think of them as stages and as you pass through stage one, you will eventually make your way to stage two, and then finally three as you have delivered your baby. Each stage itself may have a few mini-stages or steps before moving on to the next stage.
Your first stage of labor is going to consist of three parts that essentially all have to do with the thinning (effacement) and opening (dilation) of your cervix. Your cervix is starting the process of preparing for the baby to travel out the vaginal canal.
- Early Labor: We will get more into the specifics of early labor later but now this is when your cervix will open up to 4 centimeters. At this point, you are still going to be at home eating light meals and drinking clear fluids. This is when you will start to feel early contractions begin. The contractions will increase and soon you will move into the next stage.
- Active Labor: Your cervix will now open to seven centimeters. You will likely be experiencing contractions every three to four minutes and should head to the hospital. Each contraction can last around 60 seconds which implies that your cervix is moving quickly to open. This is when you may experience the water break. When this happens, your contractions will continue to speed up.
- Transition to Stage 2: At this point, your cervix will open up to 10 centimeters. This is usually the part where you will experience the most contractions every two to three minutes for 60 to 90 seconds. You will want to focus on your breathing as you may start to feel sweaty and tired.
This is when the baby will start to move through the birth canal. Your cervix will be completely dilated and open to deliver your baby. Intense contractions will continue which is what pushes the baby down the birth canal for delivery. A lot of pressure is felt by the mother at this point as the baby moves. This is the “push” stage.
After the delivery of your baby, you will still continue to have some contractions to push the placenta out. This will continue for about 5-15 minutes.
Signs of Labor
There are many signs of labor and can start as early as one month pre-delivery. Let’s consider these 10 early signs of labor so that you know your body is preparing to give birth.
Your baby will start to drop towards your pelvis a few weeks before your labor will begin. You may feel less supported when you walk and like the weight of your baby is literally moving towards the ground, and that is somewhat true! They are getting ready to make their exit!
Your Cervix is Dilating
This is the beginning or stage one when your cervix starts to thin out and dilate. This can happen a few weeks or days before active labor begins.
Cramping and Back Pain
This will start to happen more often especially due to the baby dropping. The weight requires more support for your back (back labor might happen) and cramping typically increases.
Unfortunately, increased diarrhea is very common. Your muscles are preparing by relaxing which includes your rectum.
No More Weight Gain
This is usually because of the number of bathroom breaks you will be taking. Your baby will continue to gain weight healthily but you may lose some.
Sleeping comfortably towards the end of your pregnancy gets increasingly difficult. This leads to worse sleep as you get ready to deliver and ultimately more fatigue.
Vaginal Discharge Change
Leading right up to the delivery of the baby usually women experience thickened and more frequent vaginal discharge.
Once you start making your way to stage one you will feel frequent stronger contractions preparing you for labor.
Having your water break is a sign that you are ready for active labor. It doesn’t always happen with every birth but is one of the final signs of going into labor.
Types of Labor
As mentioned, there are really three types of labor. They are:
- Early Labor
- False Labor or Braxton-Hicks Contractions
We can think of pre-labor to be our stage one. This is the week or the month leading up to the active labor. This is when the body starts preparing for delivery by moving the baby down towards the pelvic area and the beginning of the dilation of the cervix. This is when you may start to feel a few more cramps and back pain. Essentially, pre-labor is the stage that is getting you ready for your active labor stage.
Early labor is still considered to be stage 1 of labor. It is all the transitioning steps you get into active labor. This will be the longest of the three stages of birth as your cervix will dilate to four centimeters then to seven and eventually 10.
Early labor can average from a few hours to a few days. This is when you will start to feel contractions infrequently.
False labor is usually referred to as Braxton Hicks Contractions. They can happen as early as the second trimester but likely will happen in your third trimester. Braxton Hicks Contractions usually last from 30 to 60 seconds and on more rare occasions last towards two minutes. The reason they are different then labor contractions is because they tend to have a lot of variety. They may feel more or less tense each time and last for different amounts of time.
In other words, they claim no real pattern and they can even sometimes be stopped if you change your position or start walking around. These types of cramps can sometimes be triggered by active individuals or too much pressure on the uterus. That can happen from sex or having a full bladder.
Signs of Labor FAQs
With so much ground to cover when having a baby and going to labor, it’s not surprising that you may have a few more questions to figure out. There are signs that should prompt you to call your doctor and there are definitely signs that may make you feel that way but in reality, are quite normal.
That’s why finishing up with these frequently asked questions about signs of labor will be helpful for expecting mothers.
Are There Times Where I Need To Call My Doctor With Labor Signs?
Most likely your doctor will go over everything you just read and what to expect with going into labor. However, there are a few things that any woman who is pregnant should call their doctor after experiencing.
- Extreme fatigue/and or dizziness (sometimes related to Anemia)
- Severe nausea
- Vaginal bleeding
- Severe cramping
- Spike in blood pressure
- UTI symptoms
- Vaginal fluid with color/odor
While some of these symptoms are normal in a moderate or mild condition, anytime they become too severe or debilitating you should check in with your doctor.
What Should I Pack In My Labor Bag?
You will want to prepare your overnight hospital bag/labor bag. You can use this checklist provided by Pampers, which is very similar to what a lot of doctors would recommend. Of course, you can pack some extra things that are special to you.
Better yet you can let a friend, family member, or partner pack for you! Here’s what to bring:
- Any hospital paperwork, IDs, and insurance cards.
- If you have a birth plan in paperwork, bring this also. If you don’t have one don’t worry.
- Comfortable bathrobe.
- Slippers and Flip Flops.
- Lip balms and massage oils/moisturizers.
- Comfortable pillows if you want!
- Nightgowns and clothes/undergarments
- Toiletries/skincare/ makeup products
- Preferred snacks and drinks
- Personal baby blankets
- Going home outfit for the little one!
These are just some of the basic recommendations to make your trip much more comfortable.
How Long Will I Have To Push For?
Your nurse or doctor will guide you on when to push. Pushing will help get the baby out efficiently and usually feels better for the mom. Having said that how long you push for will depend on a few different factors.
It will depend on if you have had a baby before because typically pelvic muscles are much tighter for first-time moms. It will also depend on the size of your baby and the opening of your cervix. If you have been given pain medication it may be harder to connect with your muscles to push. That is when a nurse or doctor will direct you rather than feeling it for yourself.
Do Doctors Assist In Getting The Baby Out Along With My Pushing?
In some cases, the pushing may not be strong enough to get the baby all the way out. This may be because the mother is tired or the baby is not in the correct position to be birthed. In this case, a doctor may use a few tools if they can see the baby help guide the baby out. The doctor will not pull the baby out but instead, use forceps and a vacuum extractor.
Enjoy The Process
Some women may have loved every step of the way during their pregnancy including their labor. For others, it may have been more of a bumpy road and a little less pleasant. Having said that, do your best to enjoy the process and the miracle of birthing a baby.
The better prepared you are by knowing what to expect the easier the process will be. This is because you most likely will be less stressed and curious if such and such symptom feels unusual. This information will give you the tools you need to help you decide if you feel there is a sign that requires medical help or to take a breath and realize it is completely normal.
As the due date approaches and you start to feel those early signs of labor make sure you have someone to pack your bag because the little things like a cool sponge and your baby’s going home outfit can make a real difference in attitude and enjoyment.
Above all try to enjoy your special day!